Small and mid-stake tournaments are what the majority of
poker players are going to participate. For all intents and
purposes, any events in the range of $1,000 or less would be
considered small or middle limit. You can regularly find these
events in most major casinos, in circuit events, and just about
anywhere that poker is played. Being that they are the most
popular form of tournament poker, it comes as little surprise
that it’s the game that the most people are looking to learn
As is the case with any tournament, your strategy and
approach to the game are going to vary as the event goes on. You
shouldn’t be playing the same way when you are in the money as
you were in the first stage of the tournament. The biggest
adjustment that will need to be made is going to be in response
to the caliber of player that you are going to be facing.
In cash games, too, you are going to generally be up against the
same level of player from table to table, assuming you are
playing with the same limits. While every player should never be grouped into one
field, this is going to be the ideal way to play tournament
poker. You won’t be playing with the same guys from event to
event, and you may not even get to play with some players for
hours at a time. Because of all of this, you need to carry your
strategy, as you refine it, into each and every event that you
Early Stage Strategy
The early stages of these tournaments will provide you with
the best opportunity to take advantage of inferior players. As
you would expect, the field will normally trend towards the
stronger competitors as the event continues on, so there won’t
be nearly as much “easy money” on the tables. Beyond all of
this, your stack sizes will be such that there’s a lot of room
for play. You won’t need to fold mediocre hands for fear of
unnecessarily crippling your stack, because you should still have
a significant amount of big blinds left.
The structure of the tournament should be one of your primary
concerns when you first start to play. If you are playing in a
turbo tournament for example, you are going to need to make some
adjustments. These types of tournaments will call for faster
play than your average event. Likewise, a deep stacked
tournament will also cause for some adjustments to your
For the most part, you should be looking to play in a lot of
pots where you can play at a reasonable price when a tournament
is just starting. Position is everything and late position is
going to give you even more of an edge over your opponents. The
key is to make sure that you are playing for the right price.
There’s a big difference between playing a lot of hands for a
lot of chips and a lot of hands for few chips. Playing in limped
and otherwise cheap pots will be a great way to give yourself an
opportunity to win big pots without putting a lot on the line.
You should still be hand selecting, but it’s even more vital
that you carefully select the types of pots that you are
Middle Stages and Bubble Play
The middle stages are where you will start to see where you
stand in the grand scheme of things. If you are winding down to
a smaller stack, you’ll need to push the envelope and take
some chances in an effort to recoup your lost chips. If you
already have a large stack, you’ll have the chance to bully
your opponents around. Your relative stack size is going to mean
How these stages are affected in these limit buy ins will be
found in how people react. In higher limit tournaments, stronger
players will be able to calm down and still be sure that they
are making the most optimal plays possible. When you are up
against weaker players as you will come across in these fields,
you are going to notice that many players freak out and just
shove away when they get short. Whether you have a moderate
stack or a sizable stack, you’ll need to be ready and prepared
to take on those players who get frustrated and throw their
money in the middle.
Beyond the players who make erratic plays out of frustration,
you’ll also be facing players who either tighten up or get
reckless with bigger stacks. Of course, the reckless players
will do most of the work for you while you’ll need to be the
aggressor when playing the tighter opponents. The best strategy against
the players who are too nervous to stay involved in pots is to
apply the pressure. Make raises, fire out on flops, and don’t be
afraid of the big stack. Be careful that you are targeting the
right type of opponent, however. Some players are going to fight
back with their big stack and you need to be sure that you are fighting
against someone who is playing with scared money. Players tend
to either be comfortable or uncomfortable with a big stack, so
your goal is to determine which end of the spectrum they fall
into and to play against them accordingly.
Near the bubble, tension starts to set in. A lot of players
will be taking their time and folding over and over again in an
attempt to simply make the money. Your job is to pinpoint these
players and to take pots away from them. You might be surprised
to see how tight some will play when the bubble is approaching.
The most ideal situation for winning money on the bubble is to
be up against “folders” in the blinds when you are near the
button. A raise doesn’t have to get through many players and the
likelihood of winning an uncontested pot is greater. You too
should be working towards making the money, but mid limit
tournaments are absolutely full of tight players who only want
to fold their way to the money. Don’t be one of these players,
instead use them as a means of profit.
Late Stage Strategy and Short Handed Play
The late stages of a tournament will always be more nerve
racking than the rest of the event. With that being said, it means
that this is your chance to really run over the competition. So
long as you are able to control your own emotions, manipulating
the other players will become that much easier.
Once you are in the money, you will constantly be shifting
tables and playing against different people. This will cause you
to change gears over and over again. The biggest adjustment that
you’ll need to make is going to be found in short handed play.
Short handed play is in reference to any situation where you are
up against less than a full table.
In short handed poker, aggression is going to be the
difference. Passive players will usually lose and aggressive
players will tend to be the long term winners. Even if you
normally adhere to a pretty tight nit strategy, which can work
in tournaments, you’ll need to step up your aggression when
short handed play begins.
Against the majority of players in mid limit tournaments, you
are going to be able to use aggressive play to take down pots.
As backwards as it might sound, lower limit tournaments tend to
have the most nervous players. You can use the fear and
nervousness of these players to your advantage by playing with
relentless aggression. There really isn’t much more to say
other than to put your opponents to the test. Tournaments are
always going to require a fair amount of good fortune, but
winning pots without needing to go to showdown is the easiest
way to accumulate chips with minimal opposition.
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